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Triangle restaurants, chefs named as James Beard semifinalists

The James Beard Foundation's list of restaurant and chef award semifinalists was just released and there was a strong showing from the Triangle and the entire state.

  • Durham's Mateo Tapas is a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant.
  • Phoebe Lawless of Scratch Bakery in Durham is a semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef.
  • Lantern Restaurant in Chapel Hill is a semifinalist for Outstanding Restaurant. (Owner and chef Andrea Reusing won a James Beard award for Best Chef Southeast in 2011.)
  • Angus Barn in Raleigh is a semifinalist for Outstanding Wine Program.
  • Sean Lilly Wilson of Durham's Fullsteam brewery and Eric Solomon of European Cellars in Charlotte are semifinalists for outstanding wine, spirits or beer professional.
  • Katie Button of Curate in Asheville is a semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year.
  • The semifinalists for Best Chef Southeast are Ashley Christensen of Raleigh's Poole's Diner among other restaurants; Scott Crawford of Herons at the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary; Vivian Howard of Chef & the Farmer in Kinston; Scott Howell of Nana's in Durham, Elliot Moss of The Admiral in Asheville; and Aaron Vandemark of Panciuto in Hillsborough.

To see the list of all the semifinalist nominees, go to

The semifinalist nominees will be narrowed to finalists and those will be announced March 18 at a press conference in Charleston, S.C. The winner will be announced May 6 at a gala reception in New York City.

This how the awards work: The foundation puts out a call for nominations in the fall and this year more than 44,000 entries were received. A committee narrows the entrees to a list of semifinalists in each category. Then more than 600 judges across the country -- regional restaurant critics, food and wine editors, culinary educators and past James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Award winners -- vote for the five finalists and then choose a winner in each category.

The James Beard Foundation is a nonprofit that recognizes excellence in the culinary field from chefs and restaurants to journalists and cookbook authors. James Beard was a television personality and food writer who championed regional American cuisine. The foundation was created by his friends after his death in 1985.

Upscale dining from Tarboro to Kinston

Go HERE to read my Sunday story about these dining  gems all over Eastern North Carolina.

Chef & the Farmer and Mother Earth Brewing to open oyster bar in Kinston

Chef & the Farmer owners Vivian Howard and Ben Knight are teaming up with Stephen Hill, a founder of Mother Earth Brewing, to open an oyster bar in Kinston.

"Everybody here loves an oyster bar," Vivian Howard explains.

They say it won't open until spring 2013. But the oystrer bar will be in an alley next to an old furniture store between their restaurant and Mother Earth Brewing in downtown Kinston.

They will serve steamed, fried and raw oysters, as well as an oyster burger (think po'boy). For the non-oyster eaters, they will have burgers on the menu.

The restaurant will have 30 to 40 seats and will be called The Boiler Room since the building's original boiler is still in the space. 

Chef & the Farmer open again in Kinston

Just want to let people know that Kinston's Chef & the Farmer is open again.

Chef Vivian Howard called me Wednesday with the news. They had to shut down after a fire in January. This is good news for folks who love Howard's cooking.

To read Greg Cox's 4-1/2 star review and my earlier post about the fire, go HERE.

James Beard semifinalists announced

The semifinalists for the annual James Beard Foundation awards were announced this morning. Among the North Carolina folks recognized:

  • Sean Lilly Wilson, Fullsteam Brewery in Durham and Eric Solomon of Eric Solomon Selections European Cellars in Charlotte for outstanding wine and spirits professional.
  • Katie Button of Cúrate in Asheville for Rising Star Chef.
  • And among those considered for Best Chef Southeast: Ashley Christensen of Poole's in Raleigh; John Fleer of Canyon Kitchen at Lonesome Valley in Cashiers; Vivian Howard of Chef & the Farmer in Kinston; Scott Howell of Nana's in Durham; and Aaron Vandemark of Panciuto in Hillsborough. 
  • Magnolia Grill in Durham for Outstanding Restaurant.

The James Beard awards are considered the Oscars of the food world. Only three North Carolina chefs have received James Beard awards: Ben Barker and Karen Barker at Magnolia Grill and Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill.

The finalists will be announced 11 a.m. March 19. The winners will be announced May 7 at a gala in New York City.

Kinston's Chef & the Farmer suffers fire

Chef & The Farmer, a fine-dining destination in Kinston, suffered damage caused by a Saturday morning fire and it is unclear when it may reopen.

The fire started at about 9 a.m. Saturday morning in a storage area in the kitchen but the cause of the fire is unknown, says owner Ben Knight.

There was fire damage to 30 percent of the 9,000-square-foot space, and smoke damage throughout the space.  "There is a fair amount of clean up," Knight says.

They will not be able to estimate a reopening date until a building inspector tells them the extent of the repairs that need to be made, Knight explained.

In the meantime, the community support has been impressive. "We've had a lot of messages of support and love," Knight says. "We're fortunate nobody was hurt."

Knight says they will post news about their progress and reopening on their website, Facebook pages (HERE and HERE) and Twitter.

Knight owns the restaurant with his wife Vivian Howard. She is the chef and he runs the front of the house. Their farm-to-table restaurant opened in June 2006. Three years later, N&O restaurant critic Greg Cox gave the restaurant a rare 4-1/2 star review.

Click READ MORE to see Greg's review.

SoCo Food: a farm-to-ONE-table restaurant in Wilson

Farm-to-table has been a buzzword for several years now. The Triangle has seen no shortage of such restaurants: Zely & Ritz, Piedmont, Lantern, Watts Grocery, Magnolia Grill and too many others to name.  I never expected to see a restaurant take it one step further at least when it came to the table. 

SoCo Food is a farm-to-one-table restaurant in Wilson -- a beautiful 14-seat salvaged barn wood table.  Technically, it's not a restaurant but operates under bed and breakfast and catering licenses. But for most folks, the dining, not the overnight accommodations, although I'm sure they are nice, will be the draw.

SoCo Food is run by chef Jeremy Law (pictured right) and his wife, Kimberly Kulers. The couple bought what would become their 11 acres several years ago.

Here's the skinny on their love story: Kulers grew up in the area and has worked in the horse business all her adult life. She travelled to Colorado for a trade show, got stood up by a cowboy for a date and ended up meeting Law at the same bar. They were engaged three months later. And he moved to North Carolina to start their life together.

Law had worked  in restaurants in Colorado, including for Chef James Mazzio, Food and Wine's best new chef in 1999. When Law first moved to eastern North Carolina, he worked as a reporter for the Wilson Daily Times and then for the NBC affliate in Little Washington. After his foray into journalism, Law wanted to return to restaurant kitchens so he spent a year and a half working for chef Vivian Howard at Chef & The Farmer, a well-regarded farm-to-table restaurant in Kinston.

Then Law, 37, and Kulers, 32, tried to figure out how to open their own restaurant. They decided to renovate a former garage on their property into a bed-and-breakfast with a dining room, three bedrooms and a professionally-equipped kitchen.

They are betting on this idea: "People will drive for good food," Kulers said.

They are just 45 minutes from Raleigh and they have Chef & The Farmer's success in Kinston as a model.

Law describes his food and explains the restaurant name as "Southern comfort with a modern twist." They grow their own organic vegetables.. They planted 50 blueberry bushes and plan to add chickens and goats next year.  "I feel so smug," Law says, "when I pull potatoes out of the ground and I didn't have to go anywhere."

Dinner is by reservation only. You can come on Wednesdays and Thursdays for dinner at the community 14-seat table. Or you gather a group of at least eight friends and make a reservation for Friday or Saturday nights. A three-course meal costs $30, four courses cost $40. It includes tea, water, bread and French-pressed coffee. It is BYOB.

To make a reservation, call 252-243-8441.

Herons to host stellar chefs for five-course meal

This sounds like an incredible meal: Five courses made by chefs Scott Crawford and Daniel Benjamin, both of Herons at The Umstead Hotel, Ashley Christensen of Poole's Diner in Raleigh, Jim Anile of Revolution in Durham and Vivian Howard of Chef & The Farmer in Kinston. The meal will be 7 p.m. May 17.

The cost is $110. Seating is limited. Call 447-4200. 

Proceeds benefit the Lucy Daniels Center in Cary. 

Dean McCord, aka Varmint Bites who volunteers for the Lucy Daniels Center and I suspect helped arrange the dinner, has a post about the event HERE.

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